It was a risk for Audi to agree to let us spend six months behind the wheel of its S1 hot hatch.
At the time it had just lost a comparison to the Volkswagen Golf R and then had a solid, if unspectacular, showing at Bang For Your Bucks. Our general feeling towards the S1 was that it was a good car, but a little on the pricey side for the performance it offered.
But the S1 perfectly encapsulates why we do long-term tests. In the cold, objective environment of a review or comparison test, any car’s faults are brought into sharp focus
Which is as it should be; everyone wants to know what the best car is in absolute terms. Over the course of six months, certain strengths and weaknesses pop up that aren’t always apparent in the one or two days of a regular road test. Take the S1’s price for instance.
At $49,900 it’s a fair wedge to begin with, but add the 18-inch wheels from the exterior package and contrasting black roof that’s really needed for it to look its best and you’re looking at $54,610.
In a direct comparison that’s bad news as there’s plenty of other faster or more practical choices at the same price point. That said, having lived with the S1, I’m not sure the price is particularly relevant. This is a very small car with a lot of engine and a manual gearbox; no one is buying one because they need it, they’re buying it because they want it. As long as it delivers what it promises on the box, those keen on the idea of a tiny hot hatch are probably going to be pretty pleased.
And it does. You may be able to buy more power for your dollar, but thanks to 370Nm from the 2.0-litre turbo four, the S1 never felt short of poke. I still think it should have the full 210kW S3 engine tune, but that’s more because it kind of annoys me that Audi went out of its way to detune the S1 rather than any performance shortfall.
Its dynamics are equally impressive. Its size makes it really chuckable and the chassis is j-u-s-t keen enough to keep you entertained.
Traction is brilliant, yet it still manages to avoid feeling too front-wheel drive, which is a common problem with a lot of Haldex-based all-wheel drive systems.
Its diminutive dimensions were one of its best assets. We live in a society where bigger is always better, but being able to slot through gaps in traffic and squeeze into parking spaces abandoned by the SUV brigade constantly proved helpful.
Obviously, the compromise is less interior space, but transporting four adults was never really a problem for most journeys and with the back seats folded there’s plenty of room for luggage. You can even fit a full-size bicycle in the back, though it does require some fairly expert manoeuvring to do so.
A day on track left the brakes feeling in need of a service and an alloy wheel bore the scars of a parking misadventure, but as you’d hope from something with a four-ringed badge, nothing fell off or broke and there was no sign of wear from the interior.
The Audi S1 is going to appeal to a very specific buyer, but that person is probably going to be very happy, as it’s small, fast, stands out and has a premium feel. It’s been an enjoyable six months and while I wouldn’t buy one myself, I can totally understand why someone would.
Liked: Squeezing through traffic
Disliked: Tight bends are a bit frustrating in the S1
Favourite moment: When the whole $54K tiny performance car thing suddenly 'clicked'
Fuel this month: N/A
Distance this month: 0km
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